Theatre Makers and Their Neighborhoods

What’s neighborhood theatre without the neighborhood’s theatre-makers? Making your own neighborhood your artistic home is never easy, but now losing your space isn’t always just about the venue. That story is playing out right now in New York’s East Village.

For 13 years the Smithstone family – Craig & Elise and their three children – have made a home for themselves on Fifth Street in the East Village. Down on East 3rd the nine-year-old theatre, film, music and visual arts venue, The Wild Project, serves as artistic home for the award winning Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, which rose from the ashes of the Jean Cocteau Repertory in 2004, when it was cofounded by five Cocteau collaborators including Craig & Elise. Admin offices are up on 10th Street.

Within an area of some four by seven blocks – bounded by 3rd Ave and Avenue B, East 5th and 10th Streets – Craig & Elise are neighborhood theatre-makers and that’s important. A vibrant, engaged theatre scene in our neighborhoods is important. Theatre in our back yards is important. You don’t get those without artists committed to enriching the community in which they live. For Craig and Elise, that neighborhood is the East Village. So it should remain.

The neighborhood isn’t threatened with the loss of the office space or the 89-seat venue that is the artistic space. In that portion of the East Village, where Craig & Elise live and make theatre, they are threatened with the loss of their living space.

A case is now making it’s way through the New York Courts. Round one in the year-long fight to determine how and when a landlord can transform a previously-affordable, rent stabilized apartment into a market/luxury rental went to Craig & Elise, who won the right to stay in their home. They had precedent on their side.

The landlord – Raphael “I’m-worth-a-fuckload-of-money” Toledano – has Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jeffrey Goldman, on his side. His side is appealing Craig & Elise’s right to stay in their home. After twelve months of litigation, after successfully defending their home, Craig & Elise face a continued fight with no end in sight.

The case has consequences beyond a neighborhood losing cultural currency in the form of talented and dedicated artists, consequences beyond where Craig & Elise will be living in another twelve months. There are consequences to the thousands of market rate apartments in NYC, which should return to rent stabilization if Craig & Elise prevail.

The Tolendano Tenant’s Coalition, representing 24 apartment buildings in the East Village, is raising the call to aid Craig & Elise in their fight against the illegal deregulation of rent stabilized property. Continued victories throughout the protracted legal action means more than potentially influencing the lives thousands more of NYC renters. It means a neighborhood get’s to keep it’s theatre-makers. Help fight the good fight here.

Pete Riesenberg
Producing Artistic Director

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